Saturday, 20 March 2010

Review: The Belgrade Theatre

So last night was my birthday treat from Hubby to go and see 'Joseph and the amazing technicolor dreamcoat' at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry. I felt a little sorry for the lad playing Joseph, as he was one of the rejects from the BBC's 'Any Dream Will Do' and it must be a little galling to know that the winner is dazzling London audiences and married to the glamorous Denis Van Outen whilst you're stuck touring regional theatres and hoping not to sink into utter obscurity.

Anyway, I was going to blog about my fun treat, but then I thought that it was the ideal opportunity to tell you about the theatre as well as part of my 'This is Coventry' campaign. Well, let me paint you a picture...

Despite the recent mild, warm weather, last night was wet and windy, the steady drizzle drenching the streets of Coventry and driving the chavs indoors. In some ways this was, obviously, an improvement, but as Coventry is mainly composed of concrete it doesn't really look its best in the rain and dark. Then we stepped out onto the plaza where the theatre was located. The new and fancy water feature out at the front shimmered a reflection of the brightly lit theatre front and I felt the unexpected shiver of anticipation that I used to get when my parents would take me to the London theatres as a child. In the gloom the Belgrade's lights and warmth seemed most welcoming and both Hubby and I were pleasantly surprised when we stepped inside.
When I'd seen it in the daylight I had thought it shabby and sad, but actually it was clean, modern, attractive and well organised. There were two decent bars, plently of seating in the foyer, wide staircases and adequate disabled access. Staff were friendly and polite - lots of smiles which is something I rarely see in London theatres - and the atmosphere in general was buzzy and excited with a heady hum of chatter.

The auditorium itself was dinky and cute, with very steeply tiered seats. We were seated one row from the back, but our view was unimpeded and clear and the sound system was excellent. Seats were comfortable, although might be a little narrow if one is struggling with one's weight (just a word to the wise) and there was good leg room for the average person.

Now to the production - well. 'Joseph' is one of those productions which resonate strongly with Hubby and I from our childhoods. Both of us had the soundtrack, both of us had seen it as kids (I saw Philip Schofield playing Joseph, no less!) and both of us were ridiculously excited to see it again considering we're in our late twenties! We sat and looked around, squirmed as we heard the subterranean orchestra start to warm up and clutched each others' hand as the lights dimmed.

The whole show was a delight, it really was. The music was as catchy as I remember it, the cast was (on the whole) lively and personable, working hard to make their own stamp on the well known score. Special credit should go to the narrator whose voice was absolutely incredible. Even hubby (Mr Pitch Perfect and picky music critic supreme) was impressed, crediting her with something of Julie Andrew's tonal quality and noting only one bum note apparently. I also really enjoyed watching Claire Edwards, the woman signing the whole musical for the benefit of the hearing impaired. If ever the action on stage got slow I would watch her instead and she was great fun, especially in the catchy numbers where the signing would seem like dancing as she bopped along! I even learnt how to sign 'Joseph' from watching her!

There were one or two awkward and amusing moments, mostly concerning the inflatable sheep which failed to inflate; requiring a swift punch from a couple of the 'brothers' to activate their auto-inflate properly. Well, I would just like to reassure any children that no sheep were harmed in the making of Joseph, the punches were for their own good!

The female dancers, also, were a bit of a let down. Their dancing was not in sync, their steps were sloppy and they just seemed lethargic and uninvolved for the most part. This was a real pity as the rest of the cast threw themselves into the production wholeheartedly and gave it a real flavour of their own, both in the singing and dancing. I especially liked the interplay between the brothers and the way they seemed to feed off each others' energy and performances to raise their own game - it brought a real energy and sparkle to the stage.

Craig Chalmers, as Joseph, was funny and enthusiastic, bringing some lovely lighthearted moments to the production. I also enjoyed the lovely view he made, shirtless and in a loin cloth (not many women wouldn't, to be honest). I do have to say, though, that his voice was not the most consistent; his performance on the 'big numbers' was spectacular, but on the slower, softer songs he seemed to struggle a bit, often falling flat even to my almost tone death ears. On the whole, however, he made a charming and sweet Joseph and I really enjoyed watching him. He can wiggle his bum in my direction any time - no - seriously.

Can I also just give a big thumbs up for the number of encores the cast performed? Hubby and I really felt we had got our money's worth by the time we staggered out, humming a few of our favourite tunes.

The Belgrade cleared quickly and efficiently, with adequate routes of egress to prevent any bottle neck stoppages. The only negative that I could find to make about the theatre itself would be that the heat was rather overwhelming in the auditorium and they should perhaps look at introducing some air conditioning - especially when everyone was dressed for the cooler March weather outside. A word to the wise: if you go there to watch a play, wear layers!

I had a brilliant evening, lots of fun. It reminded me why I enjoy going to the theatre and I'm already making plans to go back to the Belgrade in March, when the Scottish Dance Company are performing. I love contemporary dance and I'm sure it would be displayed to good advantage in the intimate space of the Belgrade.

Visit the Belgrade's Website

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